Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Uniform Standards Do Not Equate to Uniform Learning

One thing has been proven by Louisiana's Accountability system. Uniform school standards, no matter what they supposedly demand of all students do not necessarily result in student achievement! State Superintendent Pastorek is fond of stating that we should constantly “raise the bar” or “if we raise our expectations of students, students will meet those expectations”. We have now tested this hypothesis on real kids. In Louisiana a bunch of college educated experts got together about 10 years ago and decided what each child needed to know in order to be promoted to the 5th grade and to the 9th grade and to graduate from high school. The Dept of Education produced the Louisiana Comprehensive Curriculum which it then required each teacher to use for instruction of all students. The state even prescribed which GLEs (grade level expectations) should be taught in each part of the school year for each grade. Teachers were expected to reference the GLE's being taught on a particular day in their lesson plans for that day. All of a sudden it was no longer important for teachers to individualize instruction to each child's learning rate or style. It was much more important to cover each GLE because the LEAP and ILEAP were going to test for each of those GLE's near the end of the school year, and woe to the teacher who had not prepared his/her students. After 10 years, many teachers are extremely disenchanted with this “one size fits all” “standardization” mandate. Many teachers complain that teaching has been reduced to an exercise in rote instruction designed to teach the test, not to prepare students for real life or for careers.

Unfortunately in recent years Louisiana has proven what experienced educators already knew. Students are all different! They do not all learn at the same rate, they have different aptitudes and interests, and not all students can or should be forced into a college prep curriculum. Also, when accountability was implemented there was little accountability for parents who did not always send their children to school on a regular basis or who did not provide children with a home environment conducive to learning or who neglected to instill in children the discipline to be effective students. As a result, thousands of students were retained at the 4th grade and at the 8th grade and then thousands of students each year failed to graduate from high school. Over a year ago, Superintendent Pastorek admitted that student retention was not producing desired results and he supported changing the minimum requirements for promotion to 5th grade. What happened to “set the bar higher and they will achieve”? Even though LEAP scores have improved, there is very little improvement in the NAEP test results which compare students in Louisiana with other states, nor in success of our students in college. Again, demonstrating that teaching the test is not real teaching!

Unfortunately the State Superintendent still sees no need to change the “one size fits all” high school curriculum. He has succeeded in mostly sabotaging the new Career Diploma program. As a result of the “one size fits all” policy, over 20,000 students fail to receive a high school diploma each year. If the graduation rate is measured starting with a cohort of students starting in the 7th grade, approximately 42% of all public school students in Louisiana do not attain a high school diploma of any kind. "No Child Left Behind" was intended to close the education gap, yet today over 60% of African American males do not attain a high school diploma in Louisiana. (Click on this link to see the full study on the 7th grade Cohort rate).

If teachers were not frustrated enough with all of these impractical standardization mandates, much more is coming in the near future. Louisiana's "Race to the Top" proposal is designed to punish teachers and principals who do not somehow force students to meet arbitrary learning standards. Each school principal's evaluation will soon be based almost entirely on the measured growth in learning of students, without consideration of the positive or negative influence of the child's environment. In addition, the federal government is now set to base approval of federal Title I funding to local schools on the implementation of common standards. There is a strong possibility the Federal Government will soon mandate that all children learn the same material in Language arts and Math at the same rate in every school. The final draft of the common standards has not yet been adopted by the National Governor's Association, yet the President of the United States has announced that school systems will not receive title I funding unless their states adopt the proposed standards.

U S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has about the same level of experience in public education as Louisiana’s State Superintendent. That is zero practical experience in teaching or school administration but big on “feel good” theory that has never been proven to work in a real school. It's ironic that No Child Left Behind has actually resulted (at least in this state) with many thousands of children being denied any real preparation for life. Now the same failed policy will be applied to the entire country!

State Budget: Freeze MFP; eliminate Teacher Stipends; Increase Private School Vouchers
Why should educators be surprised by the proposed State Budget? Both Superintendent Pastorek and Governor Jindal have never hidden their preference for private takeover of public schools. That’s why the Governor’s new budget will continue to freeze the MFP at the same time that state and other mandated costs have increased, teacher stipends for National Certification will be cut, and private school vouchers in the New Orleans area will increase by three million dollars. (Click on this link to see Advocate article on cuts) Superintendent Pastorek now says that National Certification for teachers is not important anymore and teachers should no longer be paid for all the hard work they did in achieving this level of expertise. The “world class” educational system he promised to help build continues to shift toward privatization. This privatization push continues despite the recent statistics demonstrating locally controlled schools improving at a faster rate than the State Dept. controlled Recovery District and privately run Charter schools. Educators, if you have pride in your profession and in public schools, get ready to fight for the survival of our schools!